Communication assistance is an important service for courts to ensure that defendants understand court proceedings, and defendants and witnesses (participants) can give evidence to the best of their ability. Communication assistance is provided by communication and language specialists - they assess participants' communication abilities and provide advice to the court on how to enable effective communication in court proceedings.
The communication assistance service is available nationwide in courts where the Evidence Act 2006 applies.
To access the service, defence counsel (for defendants and defence witnesses) or the police officer in charge or prosecutor (for prosecution witnesses), must submit an application form [PDF, 1.4 MB] to the court for the judge's consideration. Save a copy of this form to your computer before you fill it out. Continue to save it as you complete the form.
Make an application for communication assistance when you suspect a participant may be unable to effectively communicate with you or understand and answer questions in a court environment. Many of the participants who use communication assistance have a disability, autism or other neurodiversity, brain injury or under-developed language and communication skills. The service is also available for child participants.
The details provided in the application form will assist the judge to determine whether they should direct a communication assessment. It also gives the communication assistance provider all the information they need to proceed with an assessment.
Legal aid lawyers working on a case where a communication assistant has been engaged may apply for an amendment to grant if significant additional work is required. More information can be found in the Ministry's Legal Aid Services Grants handbook.
If directed by the judge, a communication assistant (who is a language and communication specialist) will complete an assessment of the participant’s communication abilities and write a report for the court. The report will recommend how the court can adapt to assist the participant to communicate effectively during the court proceedings.
If directed by the judge, the communication assistant may also work with the lawyers and judge to implement the recommendations in the assessment report. This may include:
The communication assistance quality framework [PDF, 3.6 MB] describes who can provide communication assistance, how it should be delivered and how the Ministry will support ongoing quality improvement for the service.
It is a resource for all those involved in using communication assistance including judges, lawyers, police, and other justice sector professionals.
The quality framework supports consistent use of the service throughout the country and sets expectations of all court-appointed communication assistants, including:
Communication assistance is delivered by service providers who hold a contract with the Ministry of Justice. The service providers engage suitably qualified professionals and train them to become communication assistants. Information on the qualifications and training required is available in the quality framework.